Despite it’s single square-mile radius, New York’s Garment District has been at the forefront of the world’s fashion industry for hundreds of years. The New York fashion industry started booming in the mid-19th century, thanks to the development of mass produced, ready-to-wear clothing. With ready-to-wear clothing now available at every corner it can be hard to imagine a time when clothing was all handmade, either at home or by custom tailors. With the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s, the need for mass amounts of uniforms for the American Civil War and the large influx of immigrants equipped with the skill of tailoring, it was the perfect setting for a radical shift in the fashion industry–and New York City was there to lead the way.
Around this same time (mid-19th century), the first department stores began popping up in New York, cultivating the fashion and shopping culture that now defines the city through window displays and merchandising. As the clothing manufacturing picked up more and more speed, so did the shopping, with store fronts often standing right beside the very factory that produced the clothes inside. In fact, before WWII, manufacturers were in charge of every part of production-from designing to sales, which made the central city location even more crucial.
With so many other factors to oversee, it’s no surprise that early clothing manufacturers kept their focus mostly on production, not design. Instead, they often copied designs coming from the fashion-mecca of the time: Paris. New York began garnering esteem as a design-hub when the tragic Nazi occupation of Paris cut the city off from the rest of the world. On one hand, there was a greater demand for New York’s ready-to-wear clothing, as more women entered the workforce during the war and had less time to make their own clothing. On the other hand, garments were becoming more specialized as the design and marketing aspects began to separate from the manufacturing of garments.
As this separation between the design and the manufacture of clothing widened, there was a dramatic decline in New York-based manufacturing. Since the two aspects were no longer fused, production began shifting to overseas locations in a drive to reduce costs. The Garment District continues to be the creative center for designers, but the levels of manufacturing are no where near what they used to be–at one point, 78% of America’s clothing was made in New York.
Thanks to the hard work of dedicated unions and committed designers, the manufacturing side of the Garment District is still alive today. Peruvian Connection is proud to support highly skilled clothing manufacturers in New York (and across the globe!). Some of our favorite pieces were not only designed in the heart of the city….they were also sewn with care in the District itself. Check out the New York-made pieces from our latest collection:
Hamburg Car Coat